India through the eyes of William Dalrymple

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“Living in India over the last few years, I have seen the country change at a rate that was impossible to imagine when I first moved there in the late eighties,” William Dalrymple writes in his brilliant book Nine Lives.

“On returning to Delhi after nearly a decade away, I took a lease on a farmhouse five kilometres from the boom town of Gurgaon, on the south western edge of Delhi. From the end of the road you could just see in the distance the rings of new housing estates springing up, full of call centres, software companies and fancy apartment blocks, all rapidly rising on land that only two years earlier had been virgin farmland. Six years later, Gurgaon has galloped towards us at such a speed that it now almost abuts the edge of our farm, and what is proudly toted as the largest mall in Asia is coming up a quarter of a mile from the house.

The speed of the development is breathtaking to anyone used to the plodding growth rates of Western Europe: the sort of construction that would take twenty-five years in Britain, comes up here in five months. As is now well known, India is already on the verge of overtaking Japan to become the third largest economy in the world, and according to CIA estimates, the Indian economy is expected to overtake that of the US by roughly 2050.

So extraordinary is all this that it is easy to overlook the fragility and unevenness of the boom. As you leave Gurgaon and drive down the Jaipur Highway, it is like heading back in time to an older, slower, pre-modern world. Within twenty minutes of leaving the Gurgaon headquarters of Microsoft or Google Asia, cars and trucks are beginning to give way to camel and bullock carts, suits, denim and baseball hats to dusty cotton dhotis and turbans. This is a very different India indeed, and it is where, in the places suspended between modernity and tradition, that most of the stories in [Nine Lives] are set.”

Pius Lee’s photograph depicts the great paradox that Dalrymple is referring to: We're a nation sandwiched between its desire for progress and its fight against poverty. It represents to us a nation that is trying to build a bridge between modernity and tradition through 100% literacy. Though India has already passed the Right to Education Act , the real power lies with the citizens to ensure that all our children get a chance to fulfill the promises of a new emerging India. Jaago Re!

Parimal Tripathi is a volunteer content writer for Jaagore. To learn and speak about issues on street children, environmental pollution, garbage disposal, corruption, volunteering, volunteer work, community services, NGOs, Social Issues, social and civic issues visit

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